Archives For Pacifism

I’m not sure how many have followed the interaction between Adam F(inlay) and I from the first blog, but I thought it would be good to follow up with some of his questions here. So this blog is a bit of an aside; hence the goofy 5.5 title. First, let me just say that Adam is a good friend of mine and one of the sharpest guys I know. He wrestles with the text like no other and is well versed in first century Judaism. As always, he’s raised some very good questions regarding my reading of Matthew 5 and the pacifistic position as a whole. In short, Adam says that Jesus was a Torah abiding Jew who never contradicted (the law of) Moses in his teaching, as Matthew 5:17-19 makes clear. Therefore, since the law of Moses has allowances for violence, Jesus must have as well. He wouldn’t and didn’t teach against Moses.

(Adam, if this is off in any way, please let me know!)

So here’s my response. I’ll try to be concise at the risk of setting out underdeveloped arguments.

First, I don’t think we should see such total continuity between Jesus and Moses, or between Jesus’ teaching and Moses’ teaching, or between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. The New Covenant doesn’t just renew the old, but takes God’s relationship with his people to a new level. Such discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New can already be found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, where the New is “not like” the Old (not that it’s completely different, but that there will be some discontinuity). Ezekiel 16:61-63 hints at this as well, and Galatians 3, 2 Corinthians 3, and many other statements in Paul (Rom 6; 10:4; and others) suggest that there is discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New. In short, the biblical drama unfolds as a dynamic, not a static, story; the law of Moses does not reveal God’s ideal for all people of all times under all covenants. The Mosaic law was culturally, geographically, and ethnically bound. It was God’s law for the people of Israel, in the land of Israel, while living in a particular period of time. The very nature of the shift—or progression—from a uni-ethnic, geographically bound covenant people into a multi-national, non-geographically bound covenant people, demands that the law in all its literalness cannot be sustained.

Second, there are many other things that “progress” as the biblical story unfolds. In the OT (Old Testament), God dwells behind walls in a tabernacle/temple; in the NT (New Testament), He dwells in his church without walls. In the OT, animal sacrifices expiated sin; in the NT, Jesus takes away our sins once and for all. In the OT, all ethical behavior was tethered to the land of Israel; in the NT, ethics are detached from the land promise. In the OT, holiness and purity is conceived in spatial and material terms (the alter can be defiled, along with the lamp stand, and they need to be cleansed; etc.); in the NT, the concept of holiness and purity is not the same.

Third, and related to the previous point, many ethical commands of the OT law are explicitly reversed or “brought to their intended goal” (as I like to put it) in the NT. In the OT, divorce is clearly allowed (Deut 24:1ff), while in the NT it’s not (in most cases) and Jesus “takes” Deut 24 “to its intended goal” in Matt 5:31 to prove his point. Retaliation is allowed in the court system of the OT, but for the people of God in the NT it’s strictly forbidden (e.g., Matt 5:38). (Adam had some great thoughts on this in the first blog; I hope my wording here reflects his astute correction.) Circumcision and all the dietary laws were mandated in the OT—even for Gentiles who became covenant members—but not so in the NT. (There’s a debate about whether or not Jewish believers in Jesus are still commanded to keep such laws, but it’s clearly reversed in the case of Gentiles.)

Now, fourth, what about Matthew 5:17-20? Here’s the text:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Look up any major commentary on Matthew and you’ll find a 5-10 page discussion on this passage, which usually summarizes anywhere from 5-10 different views on what Jesus means here. All that to say, the obvious meaning of what Jesus says here is not all that obvious. Several questions are immediately apparent: What does Jesus mean by “fulfill?” What does he mean by “all is accomplished?” What is the “least of these commandments”—specifically, which ones are the “least” and which “commandments” is he thinking of? (Several interpreters suggest that “these commandments” point forward to Jesus’ own “law” in 5:21-48.) And what in the world does Jesus mean by having a righteousness that surpasses “the scribes and Pharisees,” which constitutes your entrance card into the kingdom? Needless to say, we really have to roll up our sleeves, cancel our appointments, and set aside a good deal of time to work through these issues before we can confidently quote Matthew 5 in favor of any view of Jesus and the law.

So what does the passage mean? Here’s a very truncated summary of my view. First, “fulfill” is not the same as “obedience,” since “the word plhrouvn, ‘to fulfill,’ is never used in Matthew to describe obedience to the law” (Hagner, Matthew, 105). I agree with Don Hagner who says that the word “fulfill” does not refer to

“establishing the law as is, nor of supplementing it, but in the sense of bringing it to its intended meaning in connection with the messianic fulfillment (together with plhrouvn, note ‘he law and the prophets’) brought by Jesus…In Matthew’s view, the teaching of Jesus by definition amounts to the true meaning of the Torah and is hence paradoxically an affirmation of Jesus’ loyalty to the OT” (Hagner, Matthew, 107).

So Jesus didn’t seek to destroy the law, but to bring the law to its intended goal. All that to say, I don’t think the passage presents the law as a static constitution for God’s people of all time, being reiterated and reaffirmed by Jesus; rather, Jesus “penetrate(s)…the divinely intended meaning of the law.”

So what does Jesus mean by “the least of these commandments” (v. 19)? I actually don’t think it refers to Jesus’ own words in vv. 21 and following, although this would support my view. The context necessitates that Jesus is talking about the law of Moses, which makes perfect sense, because Jesus said he’s not trying to “abolish” the law but to “fulfill it.” Again, I think Hagner’s interpretation is as good as any:

“What is being emphasized in this way are not the minutiae of the law that tended to captivate the Pharisees but simply a full faithfulness to the meaning of the law as it is expounded by Jesus. Thus, the phrase “the least of these commandments” refers to the final and full meaning of the law, but taken up and interpreted by Jesus, as for example in the material that begins in v 21” (Hagner, Matthew, 108).

All in all, I don’t think that Jesus was simply reinstituting the law of Moses in all its literalness for the New Testament people of God. (Had any bacon lately?) He clearly “fulfilled” several commandments in the law, including divorce (v. 31) and retaliation (v. 38), and his treatment of unclean women, lepers, and prostitutes, seems to go against a strict interpretation of Moses—or at least, it takes Moses to a new level. Again, I don’t think this means that Jesus was abolishing the law, but bringing it to its intended goal—the love of God and love of neighbor among the worldwide community of God’s New Covenant people. After all, Sinai is not the final goal; Eden is.

So unless Jesus explicitly reiterated the OT’s allowance, and command of, violence—like stoning kids who curse their parents or those who violate the Sabbath (Exod 21:17; 35:2)—I don’t think we can assume that Jesus endorsed violence simply because Moses did. We would need to find Jesus explicitly endorsing some measure of violence among God’s people. But he doesn’t.

Okay ya’ll, this is the post many of you who have been following the discussion have been waiting for. In the previous 4 posts, I’ve argued that a form of pacifism known as “non-resistance,” which says that Christians should not kill people, but they can join the military as long as they serve as non-combatants (psychologist, medical doctor, etc.). The premise behind this view is that Jesus advocated for non-violence in his life and teaching, and this was repeated by the latter New Testament writers whenever they discuss the relationship between Christians and violence (Rom 12; 1 Pet 2). But the question often comes up—and it’s come up many times in your comments thus far: What about the person who breaks into your home and tries to kill your family? You’re telling me that I just sit back and watch my family die? In other words, are there any allowances for violence by Christians as individuals?

We’ll get to that in a second, but first, please consider again the more fundamental questions: does the New Testament ever portray violence by the hands of the church in a positive light? How did Jesus say we should respond when we are mistreated? How should we treat our enemies? How does God deal with injustice and evil in the New Testament? You say, “I know, I know, you’ve already talked about that; you’re a pacifist and I’m not, and I want to see what you’re going to do when someone breaks into your home and…”

But wait.

Before we deal with hypothetical situations outside the text, we need to make sure we have a firm grasp on what the text is actually saying. Before we move on to contemporary application, we need to have a solid understanding of how God views violence through the lens of the cross of Christ. Situations regarding uncle Bob who served in Nam and was a good man who fought for our freedom must be considered after the words of the King have been considered, meditated on, and digested. If you haven’t been stunned by the radicalness of Jesus’ ethic in Matthew 5, and by Paul’s counterintuitive demands of Romans 12, and the shameful road we are to follow according to 1 Peter 2, and if you haven’t begged God for waterfalls of grace to be able to love your local rapist who is also your enemy and desperately needs Jesus just as much as you do, if you haven’t been bewildered by the outrageousness of turning the other cheek and never retaliating evil for evil—against all human logic, against all cultural norms, against our innate sense of justice—then I would dare to suggest that you have not meditated on the scandal of the cross long enough. Calvary and the Garden Tomb are the hermeneutical lenses through which followers of the slaughtered Lamb must view violence.

So before we move to hypothetical situations, I would urge you to once again consider what Jesus and the New Testament say about violence. (I’m still quite shocked when Bible believing Christians immediately dismiss Pacifism as weird and unbiblical, using only the “killer at the door” argument devoid of any scriptural backing.) As I’ve said before, the inspired Word never views the church’s relationship to violence in a positive light and oftentimes paints it in a very negative light. I’ve yet to see a convincing scriptural argument otherwise.

So what do I do when a potential killer pulls a gun on my family?

I shoot the thug, and here’s why.

Here we have a case where we are faced with two different decisions, yet both are evil. First, if I kill the killer, this is evil in light of everything I said. By killing him, I’m not loving him, I’m using preemptive violence, I’m taking the life of another man, possibly expediting his trip to hell—where we all would go, but for the grace of God. And yet, if I let him kill my family, I’m not loving my wife and kids or caring for my household. So, if I have to choose between the lesser of these two evils, I would choose the route where killing someone will actually defend and preserve the life of my family. And by doing so, I’m exposing the particular ethical framework known as “Graded Absolutism.”

Most people don’t consider it, but there are different ethical frameworks that all people operate under. Graded Absolutism (which is quite different from “Situation Ethics”) states that there are lower laws and higher laws. When a lower law conflicts with a higher law, then the Christian has a moral obligation to obey the higher law while breaking the lower law. Lying, for instance, is immoral. And yet saving a life is a higher law. And so the answer to the question: “Is it ever right to lie in order to save a life,” Graded Absolutism would say “yes,” because saving a life is a higher law than lying (Cf. loads of stories about saving Jews during the Holocaust.)

There’s quite a bit of biblical support for the idea of higher and lower laws. Jesus talks about the “weightier matters of the law” (Matt 23:23) and the “least” and “greatest” commandment (Matt 5:19; 22:36). He also said that Judas had committed the “greater sin” (Jon 19:11) and that causing someone to stumble is exceptionally bad (Matt 18). And of course, there’s the unpardonable sin (Matt 12), and Paul talks about love as the greatest virtue (1 Cor 13:13). In the Old Testament, there are intentional sins and unintentional sins, and then there’s the one who “sins with a high hand” (Numb 15:30). Point being: not all violations are considered equal. So when faced with a dilemma where two evils are the only options (killing, or letting someone kill), then killing the killer to save innocent life is the higher law.

And we see this in the Bible on several occasions. The midwives of Exodus 1 lied to Pharaoh in order to preserve life and are praised by God (see Exod 1:17 and then 1:19). So also is Rahab, who lied to the authorities of Jericho when she hid the two spies (Josh 2). The same logic is put on bold display in Acts 5:29, where Peter is commanded to stop preaching the gospel and he responds: “It’s better to obey God than man.” He deliberately went against his authorities, to whom Christians are obligated to submit (the lower law), by obeying God (the higher law). Rebelling against the state is wrong, but in some cases it may be the lesser of two evils. Lying is wrong, but in some cases it’s the lesser of two evils. Killing is wrong, but in some cases it may be the lesser of two evils.

Let me wrap things up with an important clarification: Pacifists do not advocate for letting injustice run rampant. Nothing could be further from the truth, and yet it’s often assumed to be inherent to the view. Pacifists don’t shy away from confronting injustice; rather, they argue for a different means of confronting it. The world says confront evil with evil—you bomb me and I’ll bomb you—but Jesus says that non-violent love is the means through which the church should extend the kingdom of Christ. All forms of injustice and wickedness are ultimately rooted in human rebellion against the Creator, and no amount of C-4 can fix that. Only the gospel can.

Comparing Malcolm X and Martin Luther King is a case in point. Interestingly, X was a Muslim who had an “eye for an eye” mentality and yet his movement (the Nation of Islam) was only minimally effective in accomplishing justice. King, however, was adamant that the injustice of racism must be confronted through non-violent means. Similar causes, but very different means. And while there were other factors involved, of course, sociologists often credit King’s success to his counter intuitive means of fighting injustice through non-violent means, even when every fabric of his body wanted to strike back with a sword instead of plowshare.

In this post, we’ll dig into the issue that’s been lingering in the back of many of your minds, I’m sure, and one which has come up here and there in the comments thus far: What about the Old Testament? Surely the Old Testament’s clear allowance, and in many cases command, of violence would suggest that Christians are also allowed to use violence. After all, we don’t want to say that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New, right?

Of course not. But the issue of the Old Testament is much more complex than that. Here’s a few things to consider.

First, the nation of Israel was a theocracy, and this relates to their command to wage wars, act violently, etc. In other words, Israel was a nation of God’s people under God’s law with God as their president, so to speak. If you wanted to “get saved” and join God’s covenant, you had to pack your bags and move to Israel (in most cases). Church and state were one. Since wars and violence are part of the fabric of a broken society, Israel as a nation would be partakers in this societal structure, but it was never the ideal (as we’ll show in our third point).

But today, God’s people are not a theocracy; we are a global community scattered among the nations. The myth that America is, or ever was, a Christian nation has been so thoroughly disproved that I won’t even get into it. Needless to say, we as the church give our allegiance to Jesus and our citizenship is in heaven—whether you’re reading this blog in Andorra, Angola, or even in America. In short, while the nation of Israel fought wars and acted with violence in the Old Testament, this does not in itself carry over as part of the mission of the church. The church is never commanded or even allowed (explicitly) to act violently, but to “love our enemies,” “turn the other cheek,” “never repay evil for evil,” “overcome evil with good,” and to “never avenge yourself” (Matt 5 and Rom 12). So the difference between Israel as a theocracy and the church as a dispersed group among many nations necessitates that we view national warfare differently.

Second, most of the wars in the Old Testament were explicitly connected to the land promise. The conquest of Canaan (Josh 6-12), wars against the Philistines (1 Sam 4), and the slaughter of the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:1-3) were all tethered to the ongoing struggle to settle in, and maintain control over, the land of Israel. The point being: the land promise was unique to Israel’s relationship to God under the Old Covenant and is not carried over into the Church’s mission; hence, one of the many reason why violence and warfare has no place in the mission of the church. Our covenant relationship with Israel’s God is not wedded to a strip of real estate in the middle east.

Third, and most importantly, the Old Testament (the entire Bible, really) is a dynamic unfolding story that progresses, and the progression culminates in Jesus—the goal of the Law and the Prophets (Luke 24:44; Rom 10:4; cf. Matt 5:17-19). Now, throughout Israel’s history, there were times when God commanded violence. The conquest of the Canaanites and the command to annihilate the Amalekites (1 Sam 15) immediately come to mind. So war and violence is part and parcel with Israel’s existence. However, war and violence are never really viewed as the ultimate goal. Peace is. The whole direction of the Old Testament, especially seen in the prophets (Isaiah 2:4; 11:1-6; Mic 4:2), is that there will come a time when God would bring healing, restoration, and the cessation of violence by means of his suffering Servant. As Isaiah and Micah both creatively proclaim: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Mic 4:3; cf. Isa 2:4). Instruments of war will be turned into tools for agriculturally productivity; as God’s redemptive purposes unfold, we move from war to peace. This is such a consistent theme in the prophets that I hardly feel the need to belabor the point: God’s promised messianic kingdom will inaugurate a time of peace, healing, restoration, and the cessation of war. As Myron Augsburger writes:

“While the Bible is one unit, and one great covenant of grace, it is also an unfolding revelation in which God is continually saying more and more about himself. All through the Old Testament, God had something more to say about himself until he said it better in Jesus Christ. This means that the incarnation is final, the full disclosure of God” (Augsburger, “Christian Pacifism,” 61-62).

Violence was allowed and even commanded in the Old Testament, as was polygamy, divorce, slavery, stoning of children, and killing people for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. But this was not the goal of redemptive history; rather, it was part of God’s dynamic (not static) story of salvation, which climaxes in Jesus who bore a plowshare and not a sword. Jesus inaugurated that promised period of peace and healing, and therefore violence is allowed in the Old Testament but not in the New.

One more passage needs to be dealt with and that’s Genesis 9:5-6:

“5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

Here we have a pre-Old Covenant command where a death-penalty-like law is instituted. If you kill, then you shall be killed. The punishment, in other words, should fit the crime, and the Old Covenant Law is replete with similar “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” commands (Exod 21:24; Lev 24:19-22). In its own context, I would say that Gen 9:6 supports capital punishment: if somebody kills another person, he too should be killed. The question, however, is: Is this ideal? (It certainly moves away from the Edenic way of life.) Does this still apply for Christians today? Should we seek to retaliate life for life?

I say yes and no, but mostly no. Jesus clearly overturned the law of retaliation in Matt 5:38, when he said: “you have heard that it was said, ‘and eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you do not resist the one who is evil.” Don’t retaliate, Jesus says, and Paul says the same thing in Romans 12. So I think that we must read Gen 9 through the lens of the cross and in light of Jesus’ (and Paul’s) own ethical teaching, which prohibits retaliation.

So where does my “yes” come in? As most of you know, Rom 13:4 does say that God uses the government to “bear the sword” to punish evildoers, and (as Colby pointed out yesterday) this is one of God’s ways of avenging evil. (Interestingly, however, as my good friend Andrew Rillera has pointed out, the cross and not the dagger-like “sword” referred to in Rom 13 was Rome’s means of capital punishment.) But God’s vengeance of evil through the government is instead of the church’s own vengeance of evil (note the connection between Rom 12:17-19 and 13:4). Vengeance by Christians is everywhere prohibited and nowhere allowed in the New Testament. That’s God’s business, not ours.

Okay, I know that was a brief treatment of a very difficult issue. There’s going to be a lot of “what abouts” and “ya buts” that I couldn’t cover, and I’ll do my best to wrestle with your comments and concerns. But I’m really eager to get to the issue that most people race to whenever pacifism is discussed: what about the person breaking into your home to kill your family? Do pacifists believe that there’s never a place to use violence on an individual level? Stay tuned…

As we wrestle with the issue of Christians and violence, it’s interesting to note that prior to Constantine (4th Cent. A.D.), Christians were basically pacifists. Few Christians ever joined the military and rarely would a believer pursue a vocation where killing someone else would expected. (There’s no evidence of a Christian serving as a soldier of Rome until A.D. 174.) If you did happen to kill someone—say, you were already a soldier and got converted—it was viewed as a sin that required tearful confession and repentance, rather than celebration. Violence for the early Church was viewed as contrary to the cross of Christ, and there really wasn’t much of a debate about it.

This, of course, isn’t a biblical argument for pacifism, though it should cause us to question our assumptions as we approach the text. For pre-Constantine Christianity, non-violence was a fundamental Christian ethic. For post-Constantine Christianity, or more specifically in American Christianity where warfare is what brought us our religious freedom purchased by the blood of Native Americans, violence is rarely questioned except when embedded in a rated-R movie. (The contradiction between some Christians’ support for war and yet disdain for violent rated-R movies is ironic, to say the least.) All in all, we absolutely need to stick close to the biblical text in order to think Christianly through the issue of violence.

In the last post, I mentioned three passages that often head the list of biblical support for the so-called Just War position, or violence by individual Christians when it’s appropriate: Luke 22, Romans 13, and the temple cleansing (John 2, among others).

Luke 22:35-38 says:

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

So, Jesus tells them to go buy a sword, and low and behold, two of them (Peter and probably Simon the Zealot) already had a sword. “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” The question is: What did Jesus mean by the last phrase “It is enough?” Two swords are enough for what?

I don’t think this text can be used to support Jesus’ (new) allowance for violence. First, a few verses later Peter will wield his sword, cutting off a dude’s ear, and Jesus rebukes him: “No more of this!” (22:51). Obviously Peter (along with many later interpreters) misunderstood Jesus’ previous command to go buy a sword. The swords weren’t meant to be used for violence by Jesus’ followers. Second, Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 53:12, that he would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37) reveals the point of the two swords: Jesus had to be viewed by the Roman authorities as a threat—a potential revolutionary—in order for Rome to have legal grounds to crucify him. When Jesus hung on the cross, he was placed between an insurrectionist (Barabbas) and another criminal; he was numbered among other revolutionary transgressors and was therefore crucified. Understanding Luke 22 in this way makes much better sense both of the quotation of Isaiah 53 and the flow of Jesus’ ethical teaching, which has consistently discouraged violence up until this point.

Let’s go to Romans 13:1-5:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”

This passage is often used to advocate for the use of violence by Christians. Now again, the passage isn’t a command or even a direct allowance for violence by the church, but a command that the church submit to its—can I say—evil, corrupt, anti-Christian, and immoral governing authorities. Paul is not praising the government. He’s not saying to love the government. He’s not saying that the government is inherently good. In fact, at the time of writing, Caesar Nero was on Rome’s throne and he was a pedophilic maniac who thought he was divine! In A.D. 64, the same “governing authorities,” whom God commands the church to submit to, will end up dipping Christians in tar and setting them on fire to illuminate Nero’s garden at night. So Paul isn’t saying that Nero’s Rome is on our side, so to speak.

So what is Paul saying? In the spirit of the Old Testament prophets, Paul is saying that God is the ultimate authority and He is so sovereign that He can even work through evil earthly authorities to carry out his will. We see this in Daniel (5:1-31). We see it in Isaiah (44:24-45:7). We see it in Zechariah (1:15-21). We see it all throughout the Old Testament: God works through the evil institutions on earth to carry out his will, and God’s people shouldn’t resist or revolt against those institutions that God has placed over his people. God is ultimately in charge.

But this doesn’t mean that the evil institution is morally good or “on God’s side.” God uses earthly authorities, but He will ultimately judge them. Again, we see this throughout the prophets, where God will judge the very governing institutions that he uses. And we see this in Revelation 17-18—follow me here—where God ruthlessly condemns and pronounced judgment upon the same Roman Government that he told the church to submit to in Romans 13. The apostle John would be quite shocked, I think, at the contemporary Church’s affectionate love for and unconditional allegiance to the Babylons of their day. The question of a Christian’s participation in Babylon’s governance is simply not in view in Romans 13.

I’ve got to cut this short, so for the sake of space let me just say that in all the accounts of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (Mark 11:15-19; John 2:13-22; and others), never does the text say that he physically harmed the people he was rebuking. Yes, he made a whip and drove them out (John 2:15), but it doesn’t say that he was lacerating people with it. The temple cleansing demonstrates Jesus’ non-violent righteous indignation toward greed and corruption, and ultimately foreshadows the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, but it doesn’t show that Jesus reversed his non-violent posture by snapping a few money changes in the butt.

For the next post, we’ll dig into violence in the Old Testament.

In the previous post, I declared myself to be a pacifist. In this post, I’m going to show why the Bible endorses pacifism. Again, I’m arguing for the so-called “non-resistance” version of Pacifism, which states that the church/Christian should not participate in War as a combatant and that violence—along with lying and intoxication—should not be the mark of a Christ-follower. Here’s why.

First, Matthew 5:38-45 says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt 5:38-39, 44-45)

Now, I grew up in a context where taking the Bible literally was the mantra sung every Sunday, and yet I often heard that we can’t take this passage literally. But I’m pretty sure Jesus meant what he said: Don’t retaliate violence with violence; retaliate violence with love. Fundamental to the Christian faith is that we love—not kill—our enemies, since Christ loved his enemies (i.e., us) and was unjustly killed for them (Rom 5:8-11). He served his enemies, loved his enemies, died for his enemies. The point seems very clear: love, and not violence, should be the church’s posture.

But isn’t this passage just talking about retaliation, rather than violence as a whole? Yes, the context is about retaliation, but if violent retaliation is prohibited, then what other violence could Jesus possibly have endorsed? Certainly, a preemptive war strike would logically be excluded, as would be a bullet to the head of the person breaking into your house. If violence is prohibited in retaliation, then violence is probably not looked upon with approval in all (or at least most) circumstances by Jesus.

Moreover, Matthew 5 is part of the Sermon of the Mount, which is the “definitive charter for the life of the new covenant community” (Hays, Moral Vision, 321). As the law of Moses was for Israel, so also the Sermon on the Mount is for the Christian community (the parallel is not exact, but is still close for reasons we can’t get into). Moreover, the sermon is the first of five speeches in Matthew (chs. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23-25), which constitute the content of the phrase “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” of the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). The point: non-violent love of one’s enemies is fundamental to the church’s discipleship and its mission to disciple the nations. Somehow that’s been lost in the post-Constantinian church.

Second, Jesus lived out the truth of his own command by never acting violently against those who were either attacking him (physically, verbally, etc.), or other innocent people who were being attacked. The first point is clear; the second one is a matter of speculation. And yet, as Jesus walked around Palestine in the first century, it’s nearly certain that he observed all sorts of injustices taking place and yet never are there any instances of Jesus acting violently to defend the innocent. In fact, he reached out to soldiers, tax-collectors, and suicide bombers like Simon the Zealot. Again, non-violent love of one’s enemies seems to be the pattern and effective means of confronting evil (see below). And in one instance, Peter whipped out his sword to violently defend Jesus and he was rebuked! “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52).

Third, when Jesus said “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36a), he explicitly means that his kingdom is not a violent kingdom. “If my kingdom were of this world,” Jesus told the violent governor, “my servants would have been fighting” (John 19:36b). But my kingdom is not a violent kingdom; it’s not of this world. A fundamental feature of Jesus’ kingdom and all who participate in it is non-violence in the face of a very violent world.

Fourth, Paul and Peter both prohibit retaliation, including, of course, violent retaliation. They commanded the same counter intuitive love of one’s enemies that Jesus announced (Rom 12:14, 17-21; 1 Pet 2:18-23). Paul’s final exhortation in Romans 12:21 is particularly noteworthy, since it says “overcome evil with good.” This would suggest that evil people should not be overcome with evil, but with good, which challenges our basic assumption that evil people (e.g., Hitler) should be overcome with evil (e.g., murder). Now, I didn’t say Romans 12:21 rules it out; I just said that it challenges it—and Bonhoeffer’s intense struggle with this very issue illustrates the tension.

Now, there are many other passages that need to be dealt with, and many questions left unanswered. What about Romans 13? Didn’t Jesus command his disciples to pick up swords (Luke 22)? What about Jesus’ violent actions in cleansing the temple? All of these will be addressed in the next post. For now, it’s fitting to end with two points that as far as I can see aren’t subject to much debate: (1) Jesus acted non-violently, which lays down a pattern for his followers, and (2) violence is everywhere prohibited and never commanded for the church in the New Testament. All arguments that support the use of violence by Christians must wiggle it out of indirect implications from the text in the face of clear, direct commands of the text. Romans 13 is case in point. Here, Paul says that God uses governments to punish evil violently, and so if we assume that Christians are serving in such governmental positions, then they would logically be allowed to act violently. Not a bad argument, and we’ll wrestle with this. But again, this argument builds on indirect implications from Romans 13 and not the explicit authorial meaning of the passage.

So, in the next post, I’ll address Romans 13, Luke 22, and the temple cleansing, along with any other juicy comments that arise from this blog.

Until then, peace!